Irish Chicken Stew

Here on the peninsula, it’s not been a very reliable winter. Winter usually moves in, gets settled, and doesn’t depart until sometime in late May. This winter has been gentle yet oddly fickle. Frankly, I don’t trust it one bit! What snow we’ve gotten has been beautiful and (at times) plentiful, but it never stays for very long due to unseasonably warm days. We’ve yet to go more than about 4 days without daytime highs flirting with the low-to-mid 40s. A fickle winter indeed!

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It was on one of these truly wintry days that we awoke to find our house surrounded by thick, cottony snow. The bare trees — usually stark, nearly metallic-looking, hiding nothing with their sheer nakedness — were draped in gauzy gowns of white, clouding out the winter sky and the valley around us. The wind, lightly drifting through, was mellowed and hushed by the white feathery boughs. Though there was at least four inches on the driveway, James and I didn’t know whether to shovel or stand there in awe. It was a silence we hated to disrupt with the scraping of shovels.

Coming in from the welcome winter outside, I decided to try out a recipe I’d come across recently in Eating Well Magazine. I made a few small tweaks to make it Irish — just the sort of comfort you need on a majestic winter’s day.

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One of the major changes I made to the recipe was to brown the flour used to thicken the stew — creating a roux-like mixture similar to what is used in gumbo. This extra step heightened the smoky flavor of the bacon, allowing IMG_4712it to thoroughly infuse the chicken and vegetables while using less bacon than might normally be necessary. The browned flour also went a long way to marrying the yeasty, nutty taste of Guinness to the rest of the stew.

Speaking of chicken, be sure to use boneless skinless chicken thighs for this stew. Chicken thighs remain flavorful and tender even after a long simmering in the slow cooker. Using chicken breasts would mean tough, powdery, tasteless pieces of chicken… how disappointing that would be when it all smells so heavenly! The best part: the thighs fall apart so there’s no extra step of chopping them into bite-sized pieces.

Irish Chicken Stew
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine
Serves 8

    Chicken:
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/8 teaspoon mace (or ground nutmeg)
    2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

    Stew:
    3 slices bacon, diced
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    1 11.2-ounce bottle Guinness Draught
    1 pound carrots, cut into large pieces (1-2 inches)
    8 ounces small cremini mushrooms, halved
    2 cups sliced onion (about 1 large onion)
    5 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
    1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
    1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
    1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1 1/3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)

    In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the salt, black pepper, thyme, and mace. Sprinkle the seasoning mixture evenly over the chicken thighs on both sides. In a plate or shallow container, dredge seasoned chicken pieces in the flour.

    Heat two teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken pieces and cook until well-browned (3-4 minutes per side). Transfer the browned pieces to a 5-6 quart slow cooker. Brown the remaining chicken pieces in the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Arrange the chicken in an even layer in the slow cooker.

    Add the chopped bacon to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. When bacon has begun to brown and crisp slightly, add 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 5-10 minutes until flour darkens to the color of milk chocolate.

    Slowly and carefully stir in the Guinness; heat and continue stirring just until mixture is uniform and without lumps. Pour the bacon mixture over the chicken pieces in the slow cooker.

    Pour and spread into an even layer in the slow cooker the carrots, mushrooms, sliced onion, garlic, thyme, sage, salt, and black pepper; pour chicken broth atop the entire mixture. Cover and cook on Low for 7-8 hours or on High for 4 hours, until chicken pieces are fall-apart tender.

    Stir in the thawed peas, cover and continue cooking until peas are heated through and tender (5-10 additional minutes). Season with additional salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

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I suggest serving this over some very easy smashed potatoes I came up with. These differ from the mashed potatoes you might find alongside the turkey at Thanksgiving Dinner. The stew already has tons of flavor and excitement, so these aren’t “loaded” mashed potatoes! Instead, since they’re steamed, they’re light and puffy. A perfect canvas for the hearty chicken stew and a little bonus of buttermilk flavor.

Buttermilk Smashed Potatoes
Serves 4

    1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1/4 cup buttermilk
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    black pepper to taste

    In a medium saucepan, bring about 1-2 inches of water to a boil. Place the potatoes in steamer basket over the boiling water; steam for 12-15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.

    Combine the potatoes, buttermilk, butter, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl; mash with a potato masher until the desired consistency is reached.

A hearty dinner to follow a full afternoon of snow shoveling… or maybe at least wishing it would snow! The chicken thighs yield a tender, chunky texture to the stew while the bacon and Guinness make for a hearty, smoky background for the vegetables — all served atop a puffy cloud of buttermilk smashed potatoes.

The stew makes terrific leftovers, but you could also freeze it in individual servings (without the smashed potatoes). Having a few easy, homemade dinner possibilities tucked into your freezer is a life saver on those days when you’re pressed for time and you’re tempted to raid a fast food joint.

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~ by Jason on February 7, 2012.

12 Responses to “Irish Chicken Stew”

  1. Oh Lord! How can I go about my day without eating this stew?! We’re having busy evenings, so I needed a couple other good crock pot meals. This is on tap for Monday. Super yum.

    • This one is definitely a keeper — especially since you can take about 20 minutes to put it together and then it can simmer away for the rest of the day.

  2. Thanks for the dinner idea! I’ve never tried browning the flour to a chocolate color or using beer in a chicken stew! Sounds like a winning combination.

    • Browning the flour to a deep chocolate colors adds a special something to the flavor that will keep everyone guessing, for sure. Rather than tasting “burnt”, it brings depth to the whole stew and makes the Guinness right at home with the other flavors — plus the texture!

  3. Jason

    Guinness is great for marinating CHEAP cuts of beef. They become very tender.

    WARNING – It will ruin expensive cuts.

  4. How beautiful: the photos, the stew, your words. Embracing winter: I like it.

  5. Can’t wait to try for our upcoming March (Irish month) wine tasting…Looks nummy!!!

  6. In the crock pot now for St. Paddy’s day. Smells wonderful. Skipped the mashed potatoes and am boiling cabbage, potatoes and onions. My cousin’s comment: the best part is that you have 5 bottles of Guinness left.

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